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Mon 25 Jul 2016 03:50 PM

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5 steps to create an innovative organisation

Shereen Tawfiq, advisor to His Excellency Eng. Adel M. Fakiehy the Minister of Economy and Planning in KSA, and founder of Initiativez, a GCC-based learning and development company, advises on how to create a culture of innovation.

5 steps to create an innovative organisation
Shereen Tawif, founder of Initiativez.

We have all heard of a quote by Plato: “Necessity is the mother of invention”.

In a climate where transportation companies don’t own cars, accommodation providers own no property, the world’s most valuable retailer carries no stock and having your app on the home page is the most valuable real estate in the world, it is clear that business is changing. 

A way to bridge the gap between a desire for innovation and its often difficult execution must be figured out.  If you don’t, you may well find yourself being pushed off the “home page”.

The question then is what are you going to do to be innovative and remain a competitor?

Here are 5 tangible ways to create an innovative culture in your organisation today:

People, people, people….

For innovation to be part of your organisational DNA, you need everyone in the organisation to live and breath innovation. Although building a collaborative culture of innovation isn’t easy, some major shifts in culture are surprisingly not so hard to implement. 

Employees need to feel connected to the company, they need to feel invested in it, and they need you to appreciate how invested they are in it.  By creating the kind of environment that recognises people’s contributions, you can both enhance loyalty and attract innovative potential of your employees, which enriches your brand equity and helps you implement change faster.

Recognising innovation is critical but not solely enough to ignite innovation. Recognition schemes have to go beyond the formal yearly awards.

A robust and impactful framework for rewarding employees is found at Colgate-Palmolive where a “recognition economy” was initiated which included the award of wooden nickels to colleagues who made significant contributions to their projects. What came out of this was an organic reward system that saw the wooden nickels being passed around and left anonymously for individuals’ contributions.


To build an innovative culture you also have to support your team in learning the skills they need to be innovative. Believe it or not, innovation is a skill that can be trained and honed. Conscientiously investing in building the employee’s innovation capability is vital.

One of the many methods is doing an idea marathon, which involves discussing one particular challenge and asking all employees to write their suggestion to solve this challenge on a yellow post-it and gather them on a wall.

Walk a mile in your customer’s shoes…

It’s crucial to understand your customer psychology in order to spur new ideas and encourage customer centricity. However, as businesses grow, the distance between the customer and the leadership team can become a chasm and lead to disconnection from your customer’s needs.

When organisations - and especially the leadership team- walk a mile in their customer’s shoes, they begin to identify how their customers feel and what makes them happy.

CEOs themselves should spend at least 20 percent of their time connecting directly with customers and trying to figure out what would give them a deep sigh of relief. Walking a mile in your customer’s shoes will make you live their journey; then you and your team need to figure out how to make that journey more enjoyable!

Create a creative space

We encourage and reward bold ideas, we connect with customers, now let’s create a space for audacious brainstorming. The most creative ideas will not come from sitting behind your computer.

When Steve Jobs designed the headquarters of Pixar, he was very particular about bathrooms because he wanted “serendipitous personal encounters” to take place there. He intentionally made fewer toilets because he wanted people to stand in line and get to know each other in a relaxed setting. 

Most innovative companies use bold colours to trigger brain activities, open and flexible spaces to promote collaboration and embrace change. You want to create a space that helps your employees be stimulated, collaborate on solving problems, reflect on their ideas and most importantly enjoy their work-space.

Prototype, prototype and prototype…

Many of us spend a long time planning and designing before we get the finished product and most times, we are disappointed because the end product did not match what we had envisioned.

When we embark on designing a solution it is vital that we create a minimum viable product (MVP) as cheaply and timely as possible, test it, get customer’s feedback, figure out potential flaws, then improve on it. Repeat this cycle until you reach the final product.

Spending too much time on planning and putting the idea to the test or waiting for perfection is detrimental to creative business because it is expensive and the ambiguity makes the process ineffective. You can plan and execute a good product but prototyping gives you a game changing result. The quicker you get your employees to design a prototype, the faster you can begin to gather customer’s feedback and the better the end product will be.

Create a structure for unstructured pursuits

Finally, all this will work only when there is a space to deviate from the structured approach that you have been used to – not just physical space, but mental space as well. In other words, be intentional with your innovation. Including a plan for the test, fail, test, reiterate cycle.

Unfortunately, more than 60 percent of small companies do not allow mistakes because they are expensive. Growth is tied with innovation and innovation requires taking risks. Organisations should capitalise on the learning behind their shortfalls.

Risk-taking goes hand in hand with innovation and you can’t create disruptive innovation without individuals, teams and leaders taking risks.

About Shereen Tawfiq:

Shereen Tawfiq is the first Saudi woman to participate in an expedition to Antarctica. She was also the first Saudi female corporate banker to work at Banque Saudi Fransi.

Tawfiq founded Initiativez in April 2013, aiming to redefine business training in the Middle East and align it with global standards.

In 2015, Tawiq was appointed an advisor to His Excellency Eng. Adel M. Fakiehy the Minister of Economy and Planning in KSA.

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Amr Anany 3 years ago

Good point of view.